Twenty-one boys (age range 5 months to 16 years) were followed during their stay at hospital. Total observation time was 120 h. Field notes were made immediately after each observation. These were then transcribed into a narrative text, which was analysed by content analysis. Six categories of needs were identified during non-threatening situations at the hospital: the need for activity, the need for new experiences, the need for information, the need for participation, the need for praise and recognition, and needs related to physical resources. Four categories of needs were found during episodes of threat, discomfort and pain: the need for control, the need for having their parents nearby, the need for what is familiar, and the need for integrity. These results indicate that those involved in the care of children should be alert to the fact that as circumstances change, different needs have to be met. During non-threatening situations efforts should be made to inform children and to allow them to continue with their everyday lives. During threatening situations the children should be assisted and supported in keeping the situation under control.